Ubuntu on the desktop


I’ve tried a couple of times in the last five years or so to make the move to Linux on the desktop. Namely Ubuntu on my work’s laptop. Doing it on my own kit is easy, but as we’ll see, doing it on a corporate machine presents difficulties.

First question, why?

First of all, I like learning new things and having come from a Microsoft and networking background, the beardy ways of Linux were my weak spot. I wanted to force myself to use it in a way that running it in a VM wouldn’t let me.

Secondly, I wanted to see if the Linux desktop experience has matured to the point where migrating is viable.

Thirdly, I wanted to see if I could remove my working dependency on the Microsoft ecosystem, namely the extended Office suite.

Starter for 10

I’ve installed Linux of different flavours many times but regardless, installing Linux really is a piece of cake. The hardware was a Dell Latitude 5570, with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

I ran in to some initial hardware compatibility issues with my Dell docking station, which would cause my X-server session to completely reset each time I undocked, causing the laptop to shut all apps and loss of work. A quick look in /var/log/syslog showed the culprit service and a bit of Googling gave me some config to put in a file to resolve the issue.

I installed VMware Workstation 12 Pro so I could install my Windows 10 VM and whilst I found it to be performant most of the time, I did have strange issues with system sounds playing like a wasp farting in a tin can. All other sounds from both the VM and host played OK.

Playing about

The Unity desktop had a few quirks that annoyed me, namely the system tray at the top right appearing on all monitors so it would suddenly appear on top when I was clicking on menu bars in my Windows VM.

I installed a number of other desktop environments e.g. Gnome, KDE, XFCE but the latter in particular caused some strange behaviour and I ended up spending a good couple of hours removing all traces and reverting back to Unity.

I tend to use Python on server editions of Linux or my Windows machine but having it on a Linux desktop added that extra level of simplicity and ease of access.

Smashing Windows

I use Microsoft Office a lot. Outlook is not only my mail client but my main time management tool. I’ve not found a Linux client that comes even close, but Outlook Web Access gave me most of the functionality I was after. The same thing applies to OneNote, another tool I use extensively but can be accessed via OneDrive online.

Word and Excel proved more difficult, especially when people like creating fancy macros that aren’t compatible with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

The biggest sticking point however is Lync, or Skype For Business as it’s now known. The sound quality was questionable but the worst point for me was that the mic would just stop working at random intervals. Reconnecting the USB headset would get it working again, only to disconnect within the next couple of minutes.

I got the Empathy IM client up and running with my work’s SFB server, but it wouldn’t show contacts and voice/video wouldn’t work. In short, a show stopper.


Ubuntu has come a long way since the last time I tried this experiment. My home laptop has Kali installed and will continue to do so, but due to the dependencies on Windows and drop in productivity, I could only put up with it for two weeks before reinstalling Windows again.

At the end of the day though, I can’t completely ditch Windows simply because of how entrenched it is in my organisation.

In terms of my goals for the experiment, I certainly used Linux a lot more, especially on the CLI, so am confident I’ll be using my Ubuntu server VM more than perhaps I have done in the past.

Till the next time.

Windows Server 2012 – Overview


As is the case with many network engineers, I began my IT career, many moons ago, as a systems administrator. More specifically, I was a Microsoft Engineer. Over the years, I have worked on every Microsoft OS from the early MS-DOS days through to Windows Server 2008 R2. I was proud to attain the MCSE certification on the 2003 track and upgraded to the MCITP Server and Enterprise Administrator certifications on the 2008 track. I still hold the MCSE in higher regard than either of my MCITPs and I think that seems to be the general feeling in the industry.

Microsoft themselves seem to feel them same way too, as they’ve reverted their certification paths back to the classic MCSA\MCSE naming convention, although they now have slightly different meanings:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

When Microsoft made this move, they were kind enough to also give me a free MCSA2008 certification based on my previous achievements on the 2008 track. Fair enough, although it didn’t make any difference until the new 2012 certification path became available. At that point, I was then able to do the 70-417 upgrade exam which covers topics from three other exams to become a MCSA2012.

I’m a full time network engineer now but after having put 10+ years of my career in to Microsoft, I think the investment of time to keep my MS certs up to date is well worth it. On top of that and perhaps more importantly, I am not a fan of working in silos and if I can complete a task without having to hand part of it off to another engineer, then all the better. Will I always update my Microsoft certifications? Probably not. I still feel I’m in a transition period from sysadmin to netadmin to some degree but once I feel my network experience has caught up to the level I was on as a sysadmin, I probably won’t have the desire so much to keep my MS certs up to date.

The new certifications offers both a server track and a desktop track. I’ve not done desktop support for many years (other than being the permanent personal helpdesk of my family and friends), so that track does not appeal to me one bit. Right, that’s enough of the certifications, let me quickly review the OS itself.

Operating System

When I first installed Server 2012 on bare metal, I was incredibly impressed with the speed it took to give me a desktop, approximately 15-20 minutes. What impressed me less was the desktop itself. Yes, I know I need to start embracing this at some point but I’m not a fan of the new desktop style that Server 2012 and Windows 8 has adopted. The good news is that in a production environment, I would opt for a core installation of 2012 wherever possible i.e. without a desktop GUI. I have also installed Server 2012 on my laptop in VMware Workstation 9 using an ISO on a network share (100Mb\s link) and it installed in under 45 minutes which is also impressive.

Below are some of the points that have attracted my attention:

  • NIC teaming is now built in to the OS. This allows for active\active or active\passive depending on your requirements. I’m looking forward to putting this in to action to see how stable it is and what the performance is like
  • DCPROMO is dead, long live Powershell. The promotion is all done by Powershell 3 now. As a massive Powershell fan (it saved me countless hours when working with Exchange 2007\2010), this is a welcome change. Powershell will only become more prevalent in future. If you work with Windows, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not becoming proficient in Powershell. To be honest, DCPROMO is really only deprecated and can still be used to perform an installation using an answer file, but its on it’s last leg
  • There is an increasing emphasis on virtualisation as you would expect. One nice feature is that you can add or remove roles and features from an offline 2012 VHD file. Hyper-V has been improved considerably too with some nice features such as replicas, allowing you to provide business continuity. Deploying VM clones of domain controllers quickly without the mess of name\SID duplication looks like a nice touch too
  • Remote management has been taken to the next level. You can add or remove any roles\features on a remote server
  • No steps taken to remove legacy requirements e.g. NetBIOS\WINS, PDC emulator. Please, oh please sort this out. Let the dinosaurs die out
  • Small Business Server is dead but seems to have been replaced by the Essentials SKU. In a previous life, I used to work on SBS a fair amount and, in the right environment, it works very well. I’d be interested to know what improvements\differences that Essentials brings to the table
  • Data deduplication – oh yes! Storage may be cheaper than ever before but storage requirements by both users and applications have never been greater. This feature should help balance these two factors


There are loads of other new features and improvements for existing ones as well as many more things that have finally been deprecated but the list above is a quick review of those things that rang a bell with me. Overall, I’m impressed with the evolution that Windows Server 2012 has taken. It’s a lot more snapier, thanks to being leaner and smarter coding. It will only be a matter of time before I start looking at the pre-2012 GUIs and tutting, thinking how outdated they are!

So now all that remains is for me to keep delving deeper in to the OS, read up some more on the capabilities and do the CBTNugget videos that are available to date (just 10 from 20 as I type) and see if I can pass the exam in time for Xmas.

Till the next time…